The Sirius Project

The Sirius Project
Logo design by Scotty Roberts

Sunday, February 6, 2011

the Current situation in Egypt

It has been a couple of weeks' tension in Egypt following the demonstrations and evocations of freedom in primarily the country's northern large cities. For the members of the Sirius Project this has meant some delays and changes in normal life in Luxor, but feel assured, we are still going strong and hope for a positive change to reach the Egyptian horizon!
Military tank protecting Luxor

While Cairo, Alexandria and Suez noticed the start of demonstrations already during Tuesday almost two weeks ago, Luxor and most of southern Egypt remained rather calm and quiet until Friday, the day which was labeled the day of anger. Clashes between protesters and police took place also in Luxor, leading to the complete removal of the police force on Saturday. Friday, as far as us are concerned remained a rather calm day on the west bank. Saturday, however, was everything but calm and the fear among the villages that surround us was obviously high. Night came to Luxor and things seemed ok, until we had our neighbors banging on our door, screaming out and warning us of a large group of vandals/thieves/looters heading towards the west bank from the southern city of Armant. Armed with whatever one could find in the house, the men in the village all gathered outside the houses, protecting the area on their own as the police no longer was able to do so. The gang from Armant totally destroyed the two police stations that separate Armant from Luxor, steeling all guns and fire arms they could find. They continued straight forward, heading for the tombs and temples of modern el-Gourna/Qourna, carrying with them dunks of gasoline, prepared to burn a temple to the ground. However, they were not prepared for the villages around the temples and tombs to join with other villages of the west bank, who together joined forces, armed with everything from pistols, clubs, knives etc. Early morning Sunday, this strong and protecting shield of men drove the gang from Armant back to where they came from, making sure that temples, tombs, and all houses remained intact and protected! What a night, and what a victory!

The Temple of Thutmosis still intact!

Temple of Medinat Habu remains the same!

At this point, internet was down and so was the mobile network. We could not get in contact with the world other than by land line or personal contact. Several times during the day the power was cut off, and it felt as if Egypt was holding her breath. Sunday remained calm, but we heard gun shots throughout the entire night, still no police on the streets. Learning from the danger of Saturday, villages all over Luxor came together, including archaeologists, guards, guides and soldiers, together forming a human shield around the ancient monuments and museums in Luxor west and east. Karnak was protected by an enormous amount of brave Egyptians, all of whom were prepared to risk their lives to protect their legacy. Early morning Monday, a group of 10-12 men arrived in Karnak, heading towards the temple aiming at its magazines with archaeological finds. The human shield was shot at, but six men were caught, the remaining ones fleeing. The following days, the human shield around Karnak Temple was armed and eventually joined by the police that once more was back on the streets.

Monday night was another one of worries and fear, as our local village was immediately threatened by a group of looters. Once more the men of the village, including Dr. Ward, gathered on the streets, and with gun shoots surrounding our very home, they managed to drive away the thieves who escaped in the distant banana field.

Propaganda written in both French and Arabic
Since Monday night, west bank of Luxor has been calm, although the gun shoots have echoed throughout Luxor for many nights. The protests and demonstrations that have taken place have primarily been in favour of Mubarak, as the people of the south seem to be strong allies. One have to remember and recognize the immense difference between north and south, politically and socially, as the main cities of Egypt, incorporating Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and Minya, offer their people an option of greater education. The young inhabitants of these cities belong to an educated class, deeply involved in the "internet revolution" with facebook and twitter contacts all over the world. Although there are certainly many examples of educated people also in the south, the vast population of this area, incorporating not only Luxor, but also Aswan, Assuit, Sohag, etc., make their living, except for the tourism, on farming. Most of the farmers in south are self-sufficient.

How do you measure wealth and finances? In the western world for sure, wealth is measured in dollars or any other currency, incorporating the brand of the car people are driving, the brands of their clothes, etc., but what about being self-sufficient??? How do you measure wealth then? Our neighbour, who is a farmer, he tells us often how rich he is. He does not base this on an income, as he barely has one, but in the amount of sheep, buffalos, cattle, crops, children... He is so proud of what he has and the fact that he is in no need of anyone else's support. He is happy with his life and proud to be a rich man! Tell that to those of the western world who are arguing about the low wages of Egyptians. Again, one has to acknowledge the dissimilarity between farmers and the educated "elite". The problem, without any doubt, is growing in the main cities, as the young population of Egypt can find no jobs based on their education. This is a problem which obviously needs immediate attention, but it is a great danger in forgetting the other side of the people, those who are quite happy in living a nice and quiet life as farmers. Have anyone bothered asking them for their view? To be honest, their view points could come as a shock to those demonstrating in Cairo right now, and even with an open election, these farmers might make their voices heard, delivering an outcome completely unexpected to the people in north. Who knows???

Our next door neighbour - at least one of them!
What we do know is that Luxor and most parts of southern Egypt remains calm so far. People want to continue their lives, they want security back and they desperately need the tourists back in Egypt as tourism is such an important factor in their income.

What we also know is that the members of the Sirius Project are trying to gather their thoughts and strength, to return to a normal life as much as possible. The need of financial support from outside will be greater than ever before. We will take the opportunity of the current situation, and spend as much time as possible in each temple around us, documenting as much as only possible as there are no tourists left. We are more than happy to provide anyone on the outside with information and help as we will not leave Egypt unless under direct personal life threat.

Let us now hope for a peaceful change in Egyptian history, a change chosen by the entire population! Let us believe in a greater future and return of safety!

the Sirius Project